HL Deb 16 June 1997 vol 580 cc1072-3

2.55 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

What will be the role of the Standards Task Force announced by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on 30th May.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the Standards Task Force announced by the Secretary of State will bring together interests throughout our education service and beyond and it is part of our drive to raise standards in schools. The task force will advise the Secretary of State on the developments and implementation of policies, it will keep him informed of best practice and be an advocate of the spread of good practice. The task force will work with national agencies and with others to achieve the national targets for literacy and numeracy that have already been announced.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I naturally welcome, as who would not, any further initiative to raise educational standards and I am grateful to the Minister for the further detail he has given on this one. But may I ask him for a little more detail? Will the new task force publish periodic reports on what it is doing? Will it make recommendations; for example, to individual schools, to institutions, or more broadly? Is it the case that the task force will address itself to one particular educational level—say, primary level—or will it spread right throughout the education system? Furthermore, will it address perhaps particular curricula areas, such as literacy and numeracy? In all those connections, if I may sum them up, what will be the new task force's relation to existing task forces, such as those on numeracy and literacy, to the newly established task force, the Standards and Effectiveness Unit, in the Department for Education and Employment, and of course to Her Majesty's Inspectorate in Ofsted?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a number of questions. The task force will hope to work closely with all of those bodies, including the new numeracy task force under David Reynolds, and with the inspectorate and will take advice and information from all of them. It will report to Ministers. Ministers are not laying down the form of those reports, but the Standards Task Force will itself be free to decide whether it publishes a regular report or an occasional report. It will cover all aspects of school standards. However, there will of course from time to time be priorities for the focus of its activities, including the one I have already mentioned, in regard to the achievement of numeracy and literacy targets at age 11.

Lord Henley

My Lords, bearing in mind that two vice-chairmen with what one could call widely differing views have been appointed to this task force—the noble Lord will be able to confirm that—can he give an assurance that those different views can be accommodated? Bearing in mind what seems to be a road-to-Damascus conversion towards traditional classroom teaching standards, can the noble Lord again give an assurance, having agreed that their different views can be accommodated, that that road-to-Damascus conversion is not merely illusory? Can he also tell us how often the committee will meet?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it will lay down its own frequency of meeting but it will meet at least once a month. Because it is bringing in a wide range of opinion, both in its own membership and in the bodies it consults, the intention is that we will reach a consensus, albeit that some people come to that task force with widely differing views. As to a conversion on the road to Damascus, it has always been the view on this side of the House that standards in schools are central to our education policy. We intend that the task force will point the way to achieving some very basic standards of literacy, in regard to which, unfortunately, the inheritance from the former government has left something to be desired.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, is the Minister aware of moves now being made towards the establishment of a college of teachers? In the light of the Government's pledge in their manifesto to establish a general teaching council, can the Minister give any indication as to when such a council is likely to be established? Surely those two major initiatives could play an important role in improving standards in the teaching profession?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, at the end of the day the delivery of these higher standards will be very much due to the quality of teaching, which of itself is due very much to the training of teachers.